Chemical engineering and technology to increase profitability
Energy Control Technologies, in short ECT, was established in the United States about a dozen years ago and for three years it has been operating its own subsidiary in Europe. The company has focused its activity on the control of open-platform turbomachinery, specializing in applications, know-how and control algorithms for large rotary compressors for industrial plants, whether axial, centrifugal, steam turbines, gas turbines or turbo-expanders.
It is a niche activity that plays a role in industrial automation applications and is based on the creation of very complex algorithms that, taking into account the thermodynamics of the gas inside the compressors, avoid the need to burn a flare, ensuring energy efficiency not only for the compressor but also for the machine and the entire system. Such systems require extremely high levels of processor scanning response rates from the hardware point of view, around 30/40 milliseconds, and find their ideal application when integrated within a compressor control system.
ECT has found these features in Rockwell Automation, for which it has been an OEM partner for over ten years, recognizing the Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® programmable automation controller (PAC) as its most historic, reliable and benchmarked hardware installation, with the added value of seamless integration with the PlantPAx® distributed control system.
Proprietary vs. open platforms
About 30 to 40 years ago, when this market niche was developed, PLCs on the market did not offer the required performance and this meant that for anti-surge functionality the industry developed proprietary hardware platforms on which the software was installed. Although this is not an optimal situation, because it creates a close dependence between the company and the developer of the black-box solution, this type of technological landscape is still quite frequent; for example, in terms of costs and service time in the event of failure or the handling of spare parts intended only for that unit.
By providing configurable, nonprogrammable control algorithms for turbomachines installed on open hardware platforms, with a preference for Rockwell Automation ControlLogix, ECT is successfully helping to eradicate this practice based on its customers’ reported benefits. The choice to provide configurable and nonprogrammable algorithms means that the core of the algorithm is sealed and cannot be changed. For example, the 600 configuration parameters to run the basic surge control algorithm on a specific machine or plant, create a repeatable process that is perfectly documented and therefore absolutely independent from whoever developed it. This allows it to be maintained over time because it is based on the same building blocks that are well documented and therefore can be replicated project after project.
A best practice project
An example of this is the project carried out by ECT and Rockwell Automation for an OEM operating in the Czech Republic who has built a compressor for a Slovakian Oil & Gas company. It is a compressed ethylene gas application and specifically a plant unit on the main refining process. Although this unit is not essential for refining and does not have any impact on the operation of the plant in the event of its shutdown, it represents an improvement which greatly increases the productivity of the refinery. In a highly competitive industry such as refining, the exploitation and partial reuse of material obtained from process waste and the consequent increase in productivity make the availability of these satellite plants particularly important, as they have a strong impact on the profitability of oil and gas companies.